Festivals restricted over third wave fears

Indian authorities are restricting major religious festivals that start this week and attract huge crowds, warning that a new Covid-19 wave had already begun in the financial capital Mumbai.

State governments across the country of 1.3 billion people, which saw a devastating coronavirus surge in April-May, are clamping down on mass gatherings.

"The third wave is not coming, it is already here," Mumbai's mayor Kishori Pednekar said on Tuesday.

Maharashtra's Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray added: "We can celebrate festivals later. Let us first prioritise the lives and health of our citizens."

He was speaking ahead of the 11-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival, which starts today.

The last Covid-19 wave earlier this year overwhelmed India's hospitals and reportedly killed more than 200,000 people.

It struck after one of the world's biggest religious gatherings, the Kumbh Mela, was held.

The event attracted some 25 million pilgrims.

That gathering, large state election rallies and the infectious Delta virus variant - first detected in India - were blamed by experts for fuelling the surge.

Authorities said a recent spike in cases in Kerala after the Onam festival last month should be cause for alarm.

But festive crowds have still packed markets in Maharashtra and other states in recent days, ignoring the warnings.

The state government will limit the height of effigies of the elephant-headed god Ganesha to reduce the number of devotees carrying them during the festival. Processions on the festival's first and last days will be banned.

Restrictions on movements and activities are expected to be introduced this week as cases rise in another major Maharashtra city, Nagpur.

Maharashtra Energy Minister Nitin Raut said on Monday that the third wave has reached Nagpur and Covid-related restrictions will return to the city soon.

He made the statement after holding a review meeting with senior administrative officers from various state departments including revenue, police and health.

"The third wave has set its foot in the city as two consecutive days have seen new cases in double digits," Mr Raut told The Indian Express.

"Restrictions on shops and other establishments will be re-imposed after authorities decide the dates.

"The restrictions are necessary as it is our prime duty to save the lives of people."

In the neighbouring state of Karnataka, a night curfew will remain in place and districts posting higher positive test levels will be banned from holding Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations.

Karnataka Health Minister, K. Sudhakar said officials were also concerned that the recent resumption of high school classes could increase cases.

Ms Viti Kumar, a resident of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, said she feared people would let down their guard during the festivals.

"I cannot take chances with my daughter. I am not sending her to school," she said.

Tamil Nadu has banned public festival celebrations, while West Bengal is expected to impose curbs on the nine-day Durga Puja next month.


"We can celebrate festivals later. Let us first prioritise the lives and health of our citizens."

- Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray


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